television

Pop Culture Affidavit Episode 99: Livin’ Well in 1999

Episode 99 Website CoverIt’s the second of two “milestone year” episodes as Amanda sits down with me once again for a talk about 1999!

Over the course of our (much shorter this time) conversation, we talk music, movies, and television, but also delve into news, politics and culture.  We’ll look at the rise of and importance of Millennials, Woodstock ’99, teen pop, The Blair Witch Project and The Sixth Sense, Office Space, the dawn of the age of reality televisionWho Wants to Be A Millionaire?, the Food Network, and MTV’s Undressed, among other things.

Plus, we talk about what it was like to graduate from college in 1999 and how we somehow survived our early twenties, and we also talk about how the issues and serious events of 1999, such as Columbine and the Bill Clinton impeachment still affect our culture and politics today.

Apple Podcasts:  Pop Culture Affidavit

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Pop Culture Affidavit Episode 97: And Now A Word From Our Sponsor

Episode 97 Website CoverThey’re the 30-second segments you fast-forwarded through, ignored, or used for a bathroom break, but when you think about it, you know them better than you realize.  They are commercials.  In this episode, I talk about advertising and commercials that I remember, both fondly and not so fondly.  I begin by going over what makes a good and a bad commercial and then make my way through a bunch of commercials that I can’t get out of my head.  From cereal to fast food to toys to local car dealerships, it’s so much advertising that it’s … INSANE!

You can listen here:

iTunes:  Pop Culture Affidavit

Direct Download 

Pop Culture Affidavit podcast page

As a bonus, here are links to past blog posts about commercials.

“Your Winds Song Stays on My Mind”:  Wind Song perfume.

“When Clothes Shopping Became Cool”:  Kids “R” Us.

“Because Rock Should Make You Feel Good”:  The as-seen-on-TV compilation album Feel Good Rock.

“Why the green M&M’s have always been my favorite”: An M&M’s commercial featuring little leaguers.

“Coke Is It!”:  A 1980s Coke commercial.

“The Taste That’s Gonna Move You!”:  Juicy Fruit gum.

“Fuzzy Memories of Summer Camp”:  About local summer camp commercials from the NY tri-state area.

“Just ‘Round the Corner!”:  Long Island-area furniture store commercials.

“All You Have to Bring Is Your Love of Everything”:  Sandals, Mount Airy Lodge, and the Commack Motor Inn

“The Yearbook Myth”:  A post about yearbooks and yearbook DVD music from the mid-2000s that also features a 1980s McDonald’s commercial called “Great Year!”

“XOXO”:  Tic-Tac-Toes canned pasta from Chef Boyardee.

“Heaven in a Can”:  Franco-American gravy.

“Just What the Dr. Ordered”:  Dr. Pepper commercials from the early Nineties.

And here is a playlist of the commercials used in this episode …

 

Pop Culture Affidavit Episode 96: The Uncollecting

Episode 96 Website CoverHow much do we accumulate and hold onto?  How much of it do we actually need?  In this episode, I take you behind my new endeavor and new blog, “The Uncollecting”, which is “One Nerd’s Efforts to Let Things Go.”  I talk about what brought me to want to consume and get rid of what I haven’t read, watched, or listened to, and go over four pieces of related popular culture.  First, there is a 2007 episode of The Oprah Winfrey Show, which features Oprah trying to help a woman who had been hoarding.  Second is the show Clean House, which aired on the Style Network in the 2000s. Third is Netflix’s Tidying Up. Finally, there is the recent “Potter’s House” series on the YouTube channel Curiosity Inc.

You can find The Uncollecting blog here:  The Uncollecting

You can listen here:

iTunes:  Pop Culture Affidavit

Direct Download 

Pop Culture Affidavit podcast page

As a bonus, here’s some of the materials I talk about on the episode:

A set of videos from The Oprah Winfrey Show highlighting a family torn apart by hoarding …

Style’s Clean House

Curiosity Inc.’s Potter’s House series …

Pop Culture Affidavit Episode 95: Stayin’ Alive in 1995

Episode 95 Website CoverIt’s the first of two “milestone year” episodes where Amanda and I sit down and take a pretty thorough look at what was going on in a particular year of the 1990s. First up, 1995. Join us as we talk about where we were in our lives in ’95 and then run through the television shows, movies, and music of that year.

You can listen here:

iTunes:  Pop Culture Affidavit

Direct Download 

Pop Culture Affidavit podcast page

I Spent My Adolescence Wandering the Teen Movie Desert

Heather Duke

Shannen Doherty as Heather Duke in the film that killed ’80s teen movies.  She’d later play the iconic Brenda Walsh on the ’90s teen soap Beverly Hills 90210.

I’m in the middle of prepping for my next episode, which is going to be about the 1995 film Clueless. It’s a movie that is culturally significant because it was one of a number of movies that started a teen movie boom in the mid- to late-1990s and early 200s after a period that didn’t see many successful films in the genre, at least on the level that we saw in the previous decade with the Brat Pack films. If we take what Jonathan Bernstein says in Pretty in Pink: The Golden Age of Teenage Movies and say that 1989 is a benchmark for the end of the movie genre’s initial success because, as he puts it, Heathers killed it “stone dead” and that 1995 was the beginning of what was looking like a revival, we have a period where teen movies of many genres–comedy, drama, and horror–saw very little success.

 

This period also happens to coincide with most of my adolescence. I began junior high in the fall of 1989 and graduated high school in June of 1995, which meant that I was the target audience for what wound up being a dearth of flicks. Now, I can tell you that I spent a lot of time going to the comic store and my adolescence also coincides with the boom and subsequent bust of that particular collector’s market, but not everyone I knew was into superheroes and comics on the level that I was, so this long intro and cultural context does beg the question: what were we doing if we weren’t going to the movies in the early 1990s? I’m going to try and plumb the depths of my fuzzy memories of this period to give you … some sort of explanation, and it starts with the very place we were supposedly avoiding.

Because we were going to the movies; we just weren’t seeing those movies. I remember seeing most of those classic teen flicks like The Breakfast Club and Pretty in Pink when I was in junior high and high school because they were rerun on television quite a bit and if what I saw seemed interesting enough, I’d hit up Video Empire so I could see the whole thing instead of the 45 minutes or so I caught on WPIX (or in the case of movies like Fast Times at Ridgemont High, the whole, uncensored thing). But trips to the theater were, at least for me, reserved for Batman movies, Terminator sequels, Van Damme and Seagal action flicks, and blockbusters like Jurassic Park. The closest that I think I ever got to seeing a movie aimed directly at me and people my age in the theater were the two Wayne’s World movies and even then, those were SNL-based.

Pump up the Volume

Starring Christian Slater, Pump Up the Volume was one of the few movies of the early Nineties with an impact.

Not that we didn’t have stuff like Pump Up the Volume (an episode that I swear is coming at some point) and Reality Bites (which I covered back in 1994), but when looking at what came out during that time period, most of the movies had characters who were slightly older or younger than me. Pump Up the Volume and two Brendan Fraser movies–Encino Man and School Ties–were probably exceptions to this rule, as they did take place in a high school. But when I watched Singles or Reality Bites, I was watching movies aimed at the heart of Generation X, which was the core audience for most of the original wave of teen movies and whom by then had more or less grown tired or grown out of the genre. These two movies, while they did moderately well, did underperform and are more on the edge of the “cult classic” than bona fide cultural touchstones. And there was always a “looking at the older kids” aspect to them. Concurrently, there were a number of movies that were made for the early Millennial set–Now and Then, The Mighty Ducks, Man in the Moon, My Girl–and were a nice set-up for movies like Clueless, Scream, and I Know What You Did Last Summer. Even the few that did match right up appropriate with my age, such as PCU (again, I covered this in 1994) and Dazed & Confused (another episode I will eventually do) were box office bombs that got new life on video and cable.

 

Besides, we were watching ourselves more on television. While the WB, which began in 1994, would unlock the secret to the teen audience in the latter part of the decade with Buffy and Dawson’s Creek, credit where credit is due needs to go to Fox and MTV for what they did in the early 1990s. MTV had already been around for a decade by the time I was finishing junior high and was the default station for teenagers; Fox was just starting out and had realized that they could use what was then a more “edgy” tone to some of its programming to attract audiences that the big three networks were more or less ignoring. So, you have stuff like Parker Lewis Can’t Lose, 21 Jump Street, and Beverly Hills 90210 on Fox and MTV’s seminal reality show, The Real World. And while ABC would throw its hat in the ring with My So-Called Life in 1994, Fox and MTV had more of an impact–in fact, MSCL got a second life in reruns on MTV way into the later part of the decade.

 

Real World Cast

The cast of season 3 (San Francisco) of The Real World, which premiered in 1994.

90210 and The Real World really are the shows to consider because to people my age they were aspirational in a sense–90210 was full of the glamorous life and The Real World showed teenagers how cool it was going to be when you finally left home. Yes, there was drama on The Real World and in those first few seasons, people were dealing with serious issues and problems, but we all wanted to live in that house at one point or another (at least until we hit our twenties and realized that the real world was a lot more boring). There also wasn’t much beyond that as far as programming was concerned. Outside of what I’ve listed, we were kind of stuck between Full House and Seinfeld and usually chose the latter, even if we didn’t get all of the jokes. That is, until Beavis and Butthead came along.

 

Now, I realize that I’m simplifying for the sake of argument here and probably could do an entire series of posts or a book on this teen entertainment desert (which isn’t that half bad of an idea, tbh), so there were other shows and movies out there, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t say that Beavis and Butthead was a seminal show. Like I said, there was an “older kid” aspiration to a lot of the leftovers from the Eighties or what was on screen in the early Nineties. Watching the Hughes flicks or any other movies from that era sometimes felt like you were rifling through the room of your older brother or sister who had gone away to college and left everything unguarded, or that you were Judy in American Graffiti or Mitch Kramer in Dazed & Confused hanging out with the older kids. But watching an episode of Beavis and Butthead was like looking around your own high school. No, I didn’t do nearly any of the crazy crap those two did, but I know plenty of people who were just as idiotic; furthermore, there was a lot of sitting around and watching random crap on TV at my house and my friends’ houses while making snarky comments at what was on television. Plus, they were often watching music videos and while MTV would taper off playing videos throughout the decade, this was around the time–at least in my life–that music seemed important.

Based on the content of my last episode, it’s not revelatory to say that music is important to teenagers–it has been since my parents’ generation–but after the latter part of the Eighties and its vapid pop-rock and hair metal, the pendulum swung back to music that took itself more seriously. Oh, there was plenty of vapid crap in the early 1990s (nobody is comparing “Baby Got Back” to The Beatles), but the messages (if there were any) in “Girls Girls Girls” and “Nothin’ But a Good Time” see seemed pretty empty considering how deep we were into a recession. The gloom of alternative and the anger of punk fit what many of us were going through or at least thought we were going through (in a Holden Caulfield sort of way) as opposed to songs about strippers and blow on the Sunset Strip. Plus, this was a time when you couldn’t access a song unless it was released as a single, so you had to make the conscious choice to buy an entire album on cassette or CD and that meant being smart about where exactly you put your disposable income and that also meant that the purchase held more weight and you sought out things that really did mean something.

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Mortal Kombat fatalities such as this one caused quite a bit of hand-wringing.

That is, if you weren’t bathing in the blood of Mortal Kombat opponents. If there’s one thing I have learned from being a late-period Gen-Xer (especially one with a tween of my own), it’s that video games are huge and can be all-consuming. The older part of my generation did play video games and they certainly had gaming systems in the house, but those of us who were tweens and teens in the late 1980s and early 1990s were really the first to take it to a level beyond novelty or something we would outgrow. Video games and systems were just as expensive in the early Nineties as they are now, and that meant an investment of money and time, and they began to reflect those costs. Games were become more complex and more adult–by 1994, they even had ratings on the packages to reflect that not all of them were for little kids–so fewer people were abandoning them as the novelty wore off or they got older. While I didn’t own my own system after playing on my NES, I spent countless hours at friends’ houses playing Street Fighter, F-Zero, Mortal Kombat, Madden, NHL, and a number of other games.

 

And in a few paragraphs, I just listed everything we were doing in lieu of watching the latest iteration of The Breakfast Club. And at the heart of it is that when I was a teenager, my friends and I were doing what we wanted and really didn’t care. We kind of shrugged at what was offered to us, which caused hand-wringing among a number of companies because teenagers and twentysomethings weren’t taking everything offered to them. The “Generation X” label tended to be a negative reaction to those groups’ unwillingness to part with all of their money after a decade of teenagers buying all of the shiny things corporations had to offer. It’s almost as if people forgot how adolescents tended to act.

As I look at my students and what they are into, I don’t know if things with teen movies have cycled back to the desert of the early Nineties or if things have diversified so much–after all, there are multiple platforms now on which to view or listen to things. I believe it’s somewhere in between, although my hitting middle age definitely doesn’t help.

Everybody Wants Something

EWS21

Caitlin dumps Joey for Claude (pronounced “Clowde”).  Don’t worry, they’ll get back together … eventually. Image courtesy of Degrassi fandom Wiki.

First of all, hold up. Has it really been three and a half years since I did a review of a Degrassi High episode? Well, so much for keeping a commitment. Or maybe I’m keeping it because I am here and I am finally picking this up again.

 

At any rate, when I first realized this a few months ago, I did a rewatch of Degrassi High and decided to pick my ten favorite episodes that I watched when PBS first ran the show back in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and I intend for this to lead up to a podcast episode covering the show’s TV-movie finale, School’s Out! And before I get to the episode I’m going to cover in this entry, I should say that most of the Degrassi High episodes I am covering will be from the first of the show’s two seasons–at some point, WNET moved its Degrassi airings to Sunday morning and since my mom was dragging my ass to church, I caught bits and pieces of episodes from the show’s final season.

Here, I’m starting a strong one, and with one that is one of the most memorable for me based on the number of times I saw it on television back in the day and how honestly I connected with those characters. “Everybody Wants Something” is the fifth episode of season 1 and has three landmark moments: the Zits’ first (and only) music video, Erica and Liz in an epic fight, and Caitlin dumping Joey for Claude.

As detailed in the last episode I wrote about, “A New Start,” Degrassi High started with Erica finding out she was pregnant and then choosing to terminate the pregnancy, despite her and her sister’s religious beliefs. And unlike a teen-centered show like Saved By the Bell, this serious matter was not left completely unresolved (yes, SBTB had its ongoing plots, but they were usually the romances between characters and the only time anything serious got mentioned again, it was during a clip show). The after effects of Erica’s abortion were C-plot sutff for a couple of episodes, as someone was writing nasty things about her on bathroom mirrors and leaving things on her locker.

Toward the end of this episode, Erica finds a picture of a fetus with “Abortion Kills Children” on it and after getting upset, turns around to see Liz (best friend of Spike, who is famous as having been pregnant on Degrassi Junior High) was the person who planted it. We knew from an earlier conversation between Liz and Spike that Liz is decidedly antiabortion because her father tried to beat her mother into getting one while she was pregnant. Liz doesn’t tel Erica this, but instead calls her a murderer and Erica goes right at her.

It’s a fight that is pretty quick and ends with the two of them on the floor pulling at one another’s hair, and while it was obviously staged, I saw enough girl fights in the halls of my junior high and high school to know that it looks like these two were actually fighting. The way Erica goes after her, a crowd gathers, and they dig in and won’t let go of one another, even on the ground, suggests that someone had been paying attention to an actual high school.

And while it is not the end of Erica’s abortion arc or even the main event of the episode, it fits nicely with everything else, which is what this show always did well. There were something on the order of 10-20 characters on Degrassi High, so having this happen while something totally unrelated was going on and having those not directly affect one another is exactly what happens in a high school.

The main story is actually a two-in-one that centers around Joey Jeremiah, who I guess we could say is one of the core characters of the series (especially considering how things play out toward the series’ end). Joey’s taking yet another shot at fame with his band, The Zits (formerly The Zit Remedy) and has badgered Lucy into finally letting her shoot his video, even if he blows most of the guys’ money on getting two girls to wear bikinis (and then has that fall through). All the while, his girlfriend, Caitlin, has started hooking up with Claude (pronounced “Clowde”) and right before the video shoot, she dumps Joey.

Pat Mastroianni won awards for playing Joey Jeremiah and you can see why in episodes like this where he has to switch between having been dumped and being a goofball on camera, putting on an act for his friends. The final still of him looking consternated, while not dramatic, encapsulates the performance and was actually the kickoff to a PBS pledge break that I sat through when I saw the episode one time on a random weekend afternoon. The emcee said that if we wanted to see more of Joey, we should give money, and also showed some behind the scenes stuff about the show. I don’t know if this is an honor or not, but perhaps somewhere Mr. Mastroianni is proud that he was used to advertise public television.

My connection to this episode has little to do with Joey and Caitlin’s relationship or Erica’s abortion; instead, it’s the video the band shoots that resonates with me. When this episode aired, YouTube didn’t exist and while people did have video cameras, the ability to edit a video and give it a soundtrack required equipment or time in a studio that was cost prohibitive. oh, I’m sure you could do that with two VCRs, but even then, things were crude. My friends and I used to make stupid, silly videos–skits, lip-syncing, and other things that will never see the light of day–and in our minds, what we were putting together was more epic than the low-rent camcorder footage shot in my basement.  In other words, my friends and I could have been The Zits.  I definitely think that we could have milked that one song, too.

Next Up: “Just Friends”

Your Wind Song Stays on My Mind

Throughout history, we have been drawn to the great love stories, both triumphant and tragic.  We cheered when Odysseus was finally reunited with Penelope and we cried when Romeo and Juliet met their fateful (though, I would argue, avoidable) ends.  Yet none of those compare to the epic saga of the two lovers in a Wind Song commercial from the early 1990s.

Wind Song is an inexpensive perfume produced by Prince Matchabelli, which has been around since 1926 when its founder, Norina Machabelli fled the Soviet Union for the United States.  It began making Wind Song in 1953 and the perfume has been available at drugstore counters ever since.  I personally have never smelled it, so I will post the description provided by FragarenceX, where a bottle is currently on sale for $15.70:

A unique woody perfume, Wind Song was released in 1953 and has been enchanting consumers with its bright combination of flowers and spice ever since. The top notes include coriander, tarragon, orange leaf, and neroli, with gentle hints of mandarin, bergamot, and lemon. The heart opens with a flush of carnation and cloves, gently spreading to reveal touches of rose, ylang ylang, orris root, jasmine, and rosewood. The base slips in softly with the poignant scents of sandalwood and cedar, along with the faintest hints of vetiver, musk, benzoin, and amber. This refreshing fragrance is lovely for a day out in the spring or summer.

If I personally have smelled it, I don’t think I would know, which is not a knock against the perfume and more a testament to my inability to distinguish any one perfume from another (except maybe Axe Body Spray, but that’s because I teach high school).  But I certainly remember the commercials that ran in the 1980s and 1990s and the famous jingle, “I can’t seem to forget you.  Your Wind Song stays on my mind.”

There were a number of variants of this commercial over the years, but they more or less had the same premise.  A woman wearing Wind Song perfume sprays a little bit on a letter or note and sends it a guy.  He opens it, smells it, and … well, “I can’t seem to forget you.  Your Wind Song stays on my mind.”

I’d imagine that if you aren’t familiar with the commercials, this description could provide you with a mental picture that is either very romantic or very awful.  Wind Song could remind the guy of his lover, it could cause a terrible allergic reaction, it could trigger a PTSD flashback, or it could result in something much worse.  For instance, in one of the commercials that ran during the 1980s, the woman spots her lover in a restaurant with a bunch of business colleagues and has a waiter send the note.  It’s meant to be a reminder of romance, but it could also be the framing device for a flashback in a Skinemax movie, or the note could also read “I will not be ignored, DAN!”

Anyway, the commercial that I’m most familiar with, and which I mentioned briefly in my VHiStory episode, was from the 1990s and did not involve restaurants or possible Fatal Attraction scenarios.

 

Wind Song Guy at Work

It is a simple plot, but one for the ages.  We have Rick, whose biceps strategically sweat while he shapes metal into various shapes.  He is just going about his day in whatever dusty shop this is, one that is run by Old Man Weatherby (a guy who has been trying to get at those meddling kids for years).  But then, the shaping of various metals must stop because the mail comes.

Flying Letter

And yes, the Maguffin has arrived.  It’s so important, in fact, that we get an artfully done special effect that even George Lucas is envious of with the letter flying toward him.  What could be in this letter? Is it his electric bill?  A notice that his metal shaping tools are being repossessed?  Could he have finally gotten into Harvard?

Wind Song Letter

No, it’s from Kate.  She misses him and she sealed the letter with a kiss.  I guess the perfume is strong enough to cut through all of the manly sweat and metal shaping smells, because Rick is definitely interested.  He takes a big whiff of that letter and we cut to Kate aimlessly riding her bike on a bridge.

Bored Kate

And she’s thinking: “Did I forget to turn off the coffee maker?  I think I did.  Wait, that’s not a big deal because it has an automatic shut-off.  The house isn’t going to burn down.  But did I lock the house?  I’m pretty sure I locked the house.  I remember getting my bike out of the garage, shutting the garage door, putting my keys in the … yes, I locked the house.”

Wind Song Guy in Car

Rick is so ready that he gets into his classic car and peels out of work.  He probably didn’t even put his tools away and left everything a mess.  Old Man Weatherby is going to be pissed.  But who cares?  Kate misses him, too, and that means someone’s gonna get lucky.  He then reaches the bridge where he just happens to know where Kate is riding her bike, and is all:  “Hey, baby.”

Kate Looks at Him

Kate:  “Oh, it’s you.”

Seirously, that’s the expression.  Like she’s the lady in Rupert Hine’s “Escape (The Pina Colada Song).”

Bridge Kiss

Well, at first, anyway, because he eventually pulls over, they have this moment where he picks her up and swings her around and they kiss and then we end with the two of them standing on the bridge and kissing.  Totally blocking traffic, by the way.  What if someone else was commuting home and got stuck because of these two?  That’s really rude.

The commercial ends with a shot of the box and a voice-over and I have to say that I have a number of unanswered questions.  What kind of force is guiding that letter?  Is it supernatural?  I mean, Old Man Weatherby can’t have that good of a wrist, right?  And what is Kate really like?  Is she the good girl and Rick is the guy they can’t stand?  And where exactly are these two living where he can work in shaping metal all day and afford a classic car while she can spend her days riding her bike aimlessly across bridges?

There’s some untapped fanfiction potential in this entire 30-second ad, if you ask me.  I can see entire books being written on the moments that inspired her to send the flying letter.  I can see erotica depicting the ten minutes that follow these thirty seconds.  Maybe there’s a literary masterpiece detailing their suburban ennui years later.  Or maybe a fantasy trilogy where he actually wants to escape but she has him under the spell of her Wind Song.

The possibilities are as endless and unforgettable as their love.